How I Weaponize My Pride to Stay Productive – My C/D System

I know that I’m in good company when I say that I have a really hard time staying focused and with procrastination. Recently, I’ve bungled together a strange system that works for myself and figured it might be worth sharing it in case it can help anyone else out.

Essentially, I guilt/shame myself into staying on task.

woman writing on notebook
Photo: J. Kelly Brito (Unsplash)

C/D System Instructions

Step 1. Using either a sticky note or a notebook (one that you will be using daily), designate a space and split it in half. You can use your entire sticky note if you have one, but I often like to draw a circle or a square about 2 inches wide and tall.
Optional. Write the date. This can be a good way to start your daily notes for the day if you are using a notebook/planner for your day-to-day.
Even more optional. Write your start-time.

Step 2. Split your designated space in half. Usually, I draw a horizontal line across the middle, but sometimes I do it diagonally. (Maybe that means something…? I wouldn’t know haha.)

Step 3. Label one half with a “C” and the other with a “D“. These stand for “Considered (a distraction)” and “Distracted“.

Step 4. Begin working and add tallies to the appropriate halves if needed. In action, here are some example scenarios would lead to tallies:

  • Wanted to open Instagram – C
  • Unlocked my phone – D
  • Checked the weather – D
  • Remembered my friend’s birthday is coming up and wanted to verify the date – C
  • Started a non-work conversation with a coworker – D
  • Wondered what I should eat for dinner – C
  • Almost looked up the year a movie I overheard someone mention came out – C
  • Responded to someone on Slack and wound up chatting about non-work stuff – D

Step 5. If you consider a distraction but successfully resist it, write down what distracted you and move on. I often will do this with the rest of my sticky note or below my C/D space in my notebook/planner. If it’s a to-do that I don’t want to forget, I’ll put it on a different note or enter it into my to-do list app. (Although there is always a risk of getting distracted here, too.) Here’s an actual example of thoughts that almost tempted me away from my work, verbatim, from my notebook yesterday.

Dominique Ansel yogurt cake? Buy yogurt? Also flour, sugar | HBO Now vs. HBO Max | Wash the sheets | Poinsettia red leaves | Drunk Elephant whipped moisturizer smell | Chinese N95 masks | FFVII remake | Passover Seder | Molly Duffy for Easter

All over the place, no elaboration. If it’s important enough, if and when I revisit this list, I’ll know what it was about and look it up or take action. But more likely it’s not important at all and I will not regret not taking the time to do something about these intrusive thoughts.

Step 6. The most important step – continue working.

Why do I do this and why does it work for me?
Basically, I really don’t want to see a lot of tally marks. I start to feel a lot of pride on the line in keeping my score as low as possible, and it has become important to me to keep both scores low but especially to keep the “D” score low. The considered-distraction score can get higher, and I know that it’s a testament to my willpower every time I consider getting off task and resist.

Occasionally, this system hurts if I do end up with a lot of tallies, or I take single loooong distraction breaks. When that happens, I start fresh. It’s one of those games where the satisfaction comes from keeping the score low, like golf, or keeping the scoreboard completely clean and clear.

I think this system would work well in conjunction with a Pomodoro Timer, as a system to really keep you on track during your 25 minutes of “on” time and get the most out of your productive minutes. I have found that it helps me find flow more easily than I otherwise would.

How do you have to trick/gamify yourself into productivity?

If you end up using this system, let me know if it works for you! I really don’t know if this is an original idea, I kind of just grabbed a sticky note out of self-frustration and wrote down a “C” and a “D” and started keeping track of how often I got distracted and almost got distracted. An hour passed and I actually made good use of that full hour, which was sort of astounding. External reinforcement works well for me, so even having the external accountability to some tally marks on a piece of paper really did get me to stay on task longer.

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